Electronic Overload: The Connection Between Too Much Screen Time and Childhood Obesity

Posted May 27, 2014 by

After more than four decades of government campaigns in public schools about healthy eating and the importance of getting adequate exercise, moderate progress has been made to reduce obesity in kids. But let’s face it, while living a busy, on-the-go, stressed-out lifestyle, putting in a full eight-hour plus day, many parents don’t have the time or simply lack the energy to do all that much when they come home.

Instead of serving up a home-cooked meal, many families swing past a nearby fast food place to pick up dinner a few nights a week. Unfortunately, this repeated pattern has many negative implications for overall long term health and wellness for both parents and their children.

But it’s not just fast food that we can blame for the rise in obesity. What has become the panacea for keeping a child occupied for an extended time frame has also triggered a grand-scale epidemic among children worldwide. Despite the increase in electronic media use, television persists as the most widely-viewed screen across the globe and a major contributor to the obesity epidemic.

How much time are kids spending on the television each day? In the U.S., on average children are spending about three hours a day watching television. Couple that with all the other types of screen time, including using the computer for pleasure and homework purposes, and you will find that children are spending between five and seven hours a day in front of a screen.

This excessive, unhealthy screen time increases a child’s risk of obesity because:

  • How often children play video games, watch television, and spend time on the computer doing things unrelated to schoolwork translates into how often they are sedentary and do not obtain a healthy dose of physical activity into their daily schedule.
  • Many television commercials are comprised of unhealthy food choices. Oftentimes, the foods in the advertisements that are targeted at children are high in sugar, fats, and/or salt.
  • Children are consuming more calories when they are watching television, especially if they watch food advertisements.

Other problems linked to excessive screen time

An excessive amount of screen time can:

  • Increase a child’s risk of attention problems (such as ADHD), anxiety, and depression.
  • Increase a child’s risk for engaging in unsafe behaviors. The commercials and different television shows and characters depict smoking, drinking, and various gender role and racial stereotypes.
  • Increase a child’s risk for aggressive behavior. By the time a child enters middle school, he/she will have been exposed to more than 8,000 murders and 100,000 plus acts of violence on television alone.
  • Decrease the amount of sleep a child gets each night (and potentially disrupt sleep patterns, if they watch before bedtime).

Strategies To Reduce Screen Time

Decreasing screen time down to one hour a day can positively affect a child’s social, emotional, and physical health. Provided are some strategies to help your child become more active:

  • As a parent, try to be a good role model and practice what you preach. Keep your own “tube time” at a minimum each day.
  • Instill healthy eating and exercise habits in your children at an early age.
  • Stock the home with healthy foods.
  • Encourage your children to stay active and engage in playing sports.
  • Monitor your child’s activities with his/her friends and how they entertain themselves.
  • Regularly prepare home-cooked, healthy family dinners.
  • Refrain from allowing your child to eat while watching television or using the computer.
  • Have the television or computer in a central location of the house.
  • Involve your children in planning and preparing meals.
  • Involve the whole family in activities such as walks around the neighborhood, bicycle rides, or some form of fun, heart pumping physical activity.

Anything you’ve tried in your house that’s worked for you to limit screen time and get your kids exercising? Please share in the comments section below!


Douglas Haddad, M.S., C.N., Ph.D. (aka “Dr. Doug”) is a public school teacher in Connecticut and has worked with children in a variety of capacities as a coach, mentor, tutor, nutritionist, and inspirational speaker. He is the author of the child guidance book Save Your Kids…Now! and co-author of a health and wellness book Top Ten Tips For Tip Top Shape. He regularly speaks, writes, and blogs about self-empowering topics for parents and children including his Success Strategies for Regaining Control over Your Life...NOW! and his Happiness Formula for Achieving Anything. Visit his website at www.doughaddad.com.

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